Go to a NASA Southeast event and search the paddock for the prettiest Spec E30s you can find. When you find them, you’ll find the Whitinger family, who all drive similarly prepared Spec E30 racecars. Ryan is the dad and he races in Spec E30. Melissa is the mom, and she runs her car in HPDE2, and by the time you read this, son Aaron will have climbed the HPDE ladder, and attended comp school in pursuit of his provisional license.
When you consider Ryan’s family history, it’s no surprise that cars are his family’s passion, and it probably started before he was born. Ryan’s father was a car guy, with his own special-interest paint and body shop. Ryan’s father built street rods for a living, so he was around it his whole life. If you think about it awhile, it probably would have been odd if Ryan weren’t into cars.
“It got to the point that I built a couple of cars,” Ryan said. “I built a Factory Five Shelby Cobra that was just incredible. I never tracked it because it was a Cobra and that wasn’t really something I thought was a trackable car. Then I moved on to a Daytona coupe that I then started tracking and started doing some DE events.”
Along the way, Ryan and his brother Robb were looking into “crap can” racing. They started looking online for a suitable car, and found an E30 All the while, Ryan continued in NASA’s HPDE program and noticed how competitive and sizeable the Spec E30 fields were in the Southeast region.
“We started off building it for Chump racing, but then the more DE events I was doing with the Daytona, it kind of made the transition into full-blown Spec E30 at that point,” Ryan said. “Four months later, the Daytona gets put away and the E30 comes out.”
Ryan’s son Aaron helped to build the copper car, even though he admits his mechanical skills were underdeveloped at that point. It’s important to note here, especially in light of how well put-together the Whitingers’ cars are, is that they do all the work themselves, from stripping the donors, removing and cutting dashboards and welding in roll cage kits from Roll Cage Components, to wiring up all the switches and safety gear.
At home, they have a three-car attached garage with two lifts, where they store their cars and a two-car detached garage where they do all the prep work. They get their short blocks assembled by a machinist, but they do everything else themselves, including the paint work.
Ryan is CEO of a high-end bathtub manufacturer, and as luck would have it, the manufacturing plant has a paint booth large enough for cars, which is where they painted them on weekends when the plant wasn’t running. The results are clear evidence of his dedication.
“The thing is, people always say you’re wasting all this money on paint,” Ryan said. “There’s $500 in materials and paint on this car, inside and out. That’s nothing compared to what’s in the car. I like it to look good. It’s got to look as good as you want it to run. It’s kind of what we’re all about, can’t drive a beater. Again, that probably comes from the OCD of my father when he builds street rods. Everything is very much buttoned up.”
That first car led to building the blue one for Aaron, who was by now bitten by the E30 bug. Not only did they build a racecar for Aaron, but he also sold his daily driver, a Mustang V6, and picked up another 3-series to use as a street car.
“I love them. They’re fun little cars,” Aaron said. “Last summer was when I finally got rid of the Mustang and got another E30 to drive for a daily. I built that one myself. My grandpa helped me paint it.”
As you might imagine, Aaron’s street car exhibits the same level of preparation and attention to detail. A senior in high school, Aaron has aspirations of having a shop of his own.
“It would be nice to own a shop and build racecars,” he said. “That’d be the big dream, something like Mad Motorsports.”
Now, father and son are away at least one weekend a month at the track. The Whitingers live just five minutes from Road Atlanta, so they can sprint home for lunch or spare parts if they need to, but other tracks take them farther from home, so Melissa started coming with them. However, as anyone who has gone to the track knows, just sitting in the grandstands watching others have all the fun can fall short of what most people consider exciting.
“I have my own hobby. I run, I do half marathons and triathlons,” Melissa said. “He loves this, and I love that he loves it, and I support him doing that. I used to just go to the track and watch, but it’s kind of boring just watching.”
So, guess who has a car now? Yes, Melissa has the burgundy No. 40 and is building her skills with it in HPDE2.
“I’m just enjoying this,” she said. “I like the family time. He’s always working on cars and doing his thing, but we get to spend time together as a family.”
That means she has been present to see Aaron climb through the HPDE ranks and will see him attend comp school in March. If he passes and gets his provisional license, father and son will race together in the same class.
“You know, you watch the races, and they come off track and they’re all excited and talking about how awesome it was,” Aaron said. “All I can think is ‘I gotta get there. I gotta get there.’”
Interestingly enough, the Whitingers’ youngest son Avery is 14. If he catches the bug, odds are good he’ll also have a well-prepped Spec E30 to run. Ryan is building a fourth car — the new one is purple — to the same high standards.
“That doesn’t mean it’s his car,” Ryan is quick to point out. “He’ll get a hand-me-down, most likely.”
When you consider that Ryan only got his racing license in June of last year, you begin to get an idea how much work has taken place in a compressed time span. In addition to building and maintaining all three cars, Ryan has enjoyed a measurable amount of success in his rookie season. He won two races at Road Atlanta, and enjoyed second- and third-place finishes in 2013.
But Ryan would strike you as a forward-looking guy, and you get the impression from talking to him that the best is yet to come.
“Aaron enters comp school next month, and we’ll be racing with him, so I’m really excited about that, to have him out there,” he said. “When you talk ultimate goals, as many people as we can have racing in Spec E30, as a family, would be pretty cool.
“At this point, my goal is just to be competitive and keep the family out here doing what we can, because it is fun,” he added. “As a family thing, these weekends are the best.”